Question: In his book, George Mueller tells how God uses trials to increase our faith. Such an interpretation would have to be read into the [biblical] text. Abraham’s life (for example) proves that notion wrong. Otherwise, God would be a child abuser!
Response: You seem to think that no Christian should face any trials; or that if they do come, they could only be from Satan. But was it not God who commanded Abraham to offer Isaac? Was Job wrong when he said submissively, “What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job:2:10). Paul clearly says that God gave him a “thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me,” and he explains why: “lest I should be exalted above measure.” Paul also rejoices in the blessed result: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor:12:7,9).
Surely, if anyone was in God’s perfect will it was Christ himself. Yet He endured many trials and was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3). Indeed, He learned obedience by the things which he suffered (Heb:5:8). And Christ declared that Christians would likewise suffer for His sake: “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn:15:20).
There was no greater apostle than Paul, yet he suffered “in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep...in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen...in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst...in cold and nakedness...” (2 Cor:11:22-33).
Those who preach the “prosperity gospel” today must conclude that Paul didn’t know how to make a “positive confession,” or he would have prospered like they do. We would have to conclude the same concerning the heroes and heroines of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11 who suffered such horrible trials. On the contrary, the trials strengthened their faith. Indeed, how else could one demonstrate one’s faith without it being put to the test? Thus Peter speaks of “the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold...[which] might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ...” (1 Pt 1:7).
The Bible is literally filled from beginning to end with the thrilling testimonies of those whose faith our gracious Lord strengthened through many trials. Perhaps today’s church’s neglect of that part of Scripture has contributed to a warped view of living the life of faith.